Digital Domain docks with Bay

Helmer, Marino behind visual f/x house buy

An investment group including helmer Michael Bay and former NFL star Dan Marino has purchased visual effects house Digital Domain.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but insiders estimated the sale price at about $35 million.

The purchaser of record is Wyndcrest Holdings, whose principals are Bay, Marino, former Microsoft exec Carl Stork, former Sims Snowboards chair John C. Textor and Jonathan Teaford, formerly of GE Capital Services.

Digital Domain chairman-CEO Scott Ross will drop those titles but remain as a consultant. Stork is replacing him as CEO, with Bay and Textor as co-chairs.

The company’s remaining leadership will stay intact.

It’s not yet clear what Wyndcrest plans to do with the f/x house. Venice-based shop is very active in commercials and has long been considered one of the “Big Four” in features, along with Industrial Light & Magic, Rhythm & Hues and Sony Pictures Imageworks, though its star has faded somewhat in that area over the last year.

With the backing of Bay, Digital Domain will undoubtedly try to regain some of its luster in features. Helmer’s next project is “Transformers” for DreamWorks and Paramount. While Digital Domain has not yet been awarded the job, it now appears to be the leading candidate for one of next summer’s most CGI-heavy pics.

According to insiders, Digital Domain principals have been looking for a strategic buyer for several years, and the company has been actively on the market for at least a few months.

Ross has been vocal about the shrinking margins and growing costs at visual effects houses.

Exec was traveling abroad and unavailable for comment. F/x insiders say he has long wanted to exit the business and concentrate on producing, which will likely be his new focus.

Digital Domain is currently working on “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and is the lead shop on Clint Eastwood’s upcoming WWII epic “Flags of Our Fathers,” a project the company hopes will return it to the top rank of visual effects companies.

Company was founded by Ross, James Cameron and animatronic f/x legend Stan Winston in 1994, with credits including the Oscar-winning effects on “What Dreams May Come” and “Titanic.”

In search of ways to secure backend revenues, company opened a producing arm several years ago. Its only released project so far has been New Line’s “Secondhand Lions,” which Ross produced.

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